Chronotope Project Heads for the Electronic Event Horizon
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Jeffrey Ericson Allen seems an unlikely person to be an electronic musician. He’s played cello since he was a child. He was a librarian. And he doesn’t even own a cell-phone. But perhaps the most unusual thing about Allen—at least for an instrumental electronic artist—is that he was a storyteller.
“I’ve always been a bibliophile,” confesses Allen, speaking from his home studio in Eugene, Oregon “I have always had love of stories and storytelling, and it seemed a very natural choice to go to library school, get my degree and and pursue that craft. And I had a lot of fun with it for 25 years.”
He doesn’t do that as much anymore, but as Chronotope Project, he’s still spinning tales, it’s just that on albums like Dawn Treader, there aren’t any words.
“I’m a storyteller through the musical realm now,” he explains. “And particularly this new album, I think really epitomizes that. There are a lot of mythological and literary sources for it. What I’m always trying to get to is the kernel of the story, the inner truth behind the outer story and music is a particularly intimate way to do that. It’s a way of telling the story without being too concerned about externals. So I’m still a storyteller, I just have a different medium now.”
Jeffrey Ericson Allen’s story began in Los Angeles where he was born in 1958. He came into a musical family and was taught cello by his grandfather.
“There was always music playing in the home,” he remembers. “In fact,when I was a child, I really loved the idea of maybe being a conductor, so I even set up a podium and I got scores, and my grandfather taught me all the different ways to count the beat beat to different rhythms. I would cue in the instruments and just imagine that I was evoking all this sound.”
Allen played in classical ensembles and orchestras, and for 20 years he had a modern chamber group called Confluence, who put out several recordings.
“I was heavily involved with new acoustic music before I adopted Chronotope Project,” he says. “I had a group called Confluence. The guitarist Forrest McDowell and I were the core of that. We wrote all of the pieces and I did all of the arranging and recording for that group. We had at various time, tabla, flute, harp, another cellist and it was a great adventure.”
Somewhere along the way, the electronic switch got flipped.
“I was a listener of programs like Hearts of Space,” he admits. “I would probably say that Brian Eno was my first introduction to ambient music. “Music for Airports” was probably my first exposure.”
Allen recorded his first electronic album, Vanish Into Blue, in 1992 under the name Jeff Defty. But it’s as Chronotope Project that he emerged with his own sound. It embraces not only his musical interests, but his philosophical, spiritual, and scientific ones as well.
“I find that contemplating cosmological ideas, either through physics or astronomy, kind of takes me out of a small world and into a very large universe,” Allen reflects. “So I think about it a lot. And of course it makes its way into my music and probably, I would say that ambient music is a home for a lot of cosmological ideas. It naturally evokes that. The atmospheric pads, the long reverbs and delays, they all seem to suggest wide-open space.”
Chronotope Project has released five albums in the last three years. The latest is Dawn Treader. It’s a CD of long-form compositions, some of which create a floating stasis in space, others which go on journeys. Many of them are based around his studies in science and Buddhism, beginning with his performance name.
“Chronotope Project is derived from a very seminal idea of the literary critic and philologist, Mikhail Bakhtin,” he explains. “He was looking for language to describe the confluence of space and time as it appears, primarily, in literature. So Bakhtin decided to take two Greek words, Chronos, meaning time, and Topos, meaning space, and put them together to create the word Chronotope. I thought it was just an ideal description for what I’m doing as a musician.”
As influential as science and philosophy are his spiritual beliefs.
“I’ve been a student of Buddhism for 30-odd years,” he reveals. “And while I would say that I’m actually fairly soft on a lot of the metaphysical beliefs, but the practice is very important to me and very grounding to me. And the iconography of Buddhism, there’s really a profound system of symbology for all kinds of internal concepts that I find really useful, personally. And I often do reflect on them in my music.”
You can still find Jeffrey Ericson Allen playing his cello in classical settings, but with Chronotope Project he gets to explore a world in between. He named one of his albums Event Horizon and he uses that concept as a metaphor for his music.”
“I’m fascinated with boundaries,” he enthuses. “The event horizon is this place just before you the gravitational pull of the singularity takes you who knows where. But there’s a very interesting zone that surrounds a singularity—it’s the boundary between chaos and order, and I think that’s where the really interesting stuff happens.”
Interesting stuff happens on Chronotope Project’s latest album, Dawn Treader, which takes its name from a ship in CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. It’s out on Spotted Peccary Records.